Despite the rapid global expansion of mobile phone coverage, many isolated, rural communities do not have connectivity. In the Philippines, we are evaluating the impact of installing cellular towers and providing free SIM cards for mobile phone use on communication activity and frequency, social ties, access to information, migration and labor market outcomes, bargaining power and market prices, and income and employment decisions.
Identifying eligible beneficiaries for social programs, a process known as “targeting,” can be a challenging and costly process for development and humanitarian organizations. Many widely-used targeting strategies were developed for rural environments and may not work as well in dynamic and densely populated urban centers. One potential new technique is “decentralized targeting,” a process that relies on information from socially knowledgeable members of a community. In Liberia, we conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the effectiveness of decentralized targeting in reaching poor households and households that have experienced an economic or health shock. Preliminary results find that both the proxy means test and decentralized targeting were prone to error – the majority of households identified by both were not the poorest.
Over the past two decades, sports programs have proliferated as a way to engage youth in productive activities, especially in contexts marked by conflict and high unemployment. Believed to lead to better labor market outcomes for marginalized youth, many sports programs aim to improve psychosocial well-being and soft skills of participants. In Liberia, we worked with Mercy Corps to evaluate the impact of a sports and life skills development program on psychosocial and labor outcomes of vulnerable young people. While the program had no effect on improved psychosocial well-being or resilience, it did lead to an increase in labor force participation.
In developing countries, women are commonly underrepresented in the formal sector. One potential explanation is that a large proportion of these jobs are secured through informal channels, including employee referrals, which may disadvantage women. We examined how informal job referral systems affect labor market participation for women in Malawi using a randomized evaluation and found that informal referral schemes systematically disadvantaged qualified women.
Access to transportation is generally considered to be a fundamental determinant of economic growth and a significant factor in an individual’s health, schooling, and economic status. In Malawi, we studied the introduction of a daily minibus service that connected five rural villages and the nearby market town. Although a majority of households used the new bus service, demand was very sensitive to price and was never sufficient to cover operational costs. This suggests that upgrades to transport infrastructure in rural areas will not necessary lead to greater access to affordable transport services.